Jane: I’d always vaguely known that mincemeat used to contain meat – hence the name – but I’d never thought of making real meat mincemeat for Christmas until this year, when I was reading Paul Levy’s foodie history, The Feast of Christmas. He has a bit on mince pies and at the back quotes the 1604 mincemeat recipe of Lady Elinor Fettiplace, which sounds almost like a samosa or spicy pasty, containing the same amount of meat and suet as dried fruit, plus spices like nutmeg and mace, a bit of salt and almost no sugar at all – very different from today’s sweet mince pies.
All you need is a bit of lean mince, some dried fruit, suet and spices. The only unusual ingredient is rosewater, which you can buy in supermarkets. I used puff pastry (even though Lady Fettiplace would never have heard of it), because I love its buttery taste and tumble-down look.
As for the taste – the squeamish among you will be glad to know the meat was almost undetectable and although Paul Levy pegged these pies as being savoury and spicy, I found they had a sweet aftertaste that was much less cloying than the modern version. I thought they were fab – and a good talking point for your Christmas party. The kids didn’t even realise there was meat in them until I told them, and the shock means they’ll always remember what the word ‘mincemeat’ actually means.
Ye Olde Mince Meat Pies
This recipe uses Lady Fettiplace’s mincemeat, taken from a 1604 recipe, updated by Hilary Spurling and reproduced in Paul Levy’s The Feast of Christmas. I’ve cut the quantities but kept it spicy – this now makes 24 jolly decent mince pies.
For the mincemeat
125g lean mince
125g shredded suet
1 pinch ground ginger
1 pinch ground mace
½ tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1 tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
Rind of one small orange
3 tbsp rosewater
1 pkt frozen puff pastry (use organic Dorset Pastry if you can find it – it is easily the best), defrosted
Heat the oven to 220 degrees C, Gas Mark 7. Brush two patty tins lightly with vegetable oil.
Mix all the mincemeat ingredients together in a bowl with your hands, making sure the mince and suet are evenly mixed with the dried fruit.
Roll out the pastry to about 3mm thick, then cut 24 rounds with a 7.5cm cutter and 24 tops with a 5.5cm cutter. Place the bases in the two patty tins, and put a heaped teaspoonful of mincemeat on each, pressing down lightly. Dampen the edges of the pastry with water, and place a top on each one, pressing the join lightly to seal. Cut a slit in the top of each pie with a knife. Place the mince pies in the oven and cook for about 18 to 20 mins, until golden brown.
Cool on a wire rack and dust with icing sugar before serving.